INCHEON, South Korea (Reuters) - Carlota Ciganda survived a late-round meltdown to beat an equally error-prone Alison Lee in a playoff at the $2 million KEB Hana Bank Championship on Sunday.
Spaniard Ciganda, a three-times winner on the Ladies European Tour and Order of Merit champion in 2012, squandered a four-shot lead with five holes to play but found herself in a playoff after Lee failed to par the last.
Korean-American Lee again found trouble on the 18th in the playoff, missing the fairway with her drive and second shot, before almost making birdie with a monster putt. Ciganda played with more control and sank an eight-foot putt for the win.
“It means the world to me, and it’s nice to win here in Korea where women’s golf is so big,” Ciganda, still wearing a traditional Korean hanbok from the prize-giving ceremony, told a news conference.
“It’s been a tough two years for me. My coach passed away two years ago ... so it’s been a long journey but I love this life. I love being an athlete, I couldn’t ask for a better life.”
Ciganda was mentored by coach Rogelio Echeverria for almost 20 years before he passed away in 2014.
“This tournament is for my coach, he’s up there watching me,” she added.
Ciganda carded a closing round of 70 for a combined 10-under 278, while Lee closed with a three-over-par 75. It was the Pamplona native’s first win on the LPGA Tour and earned her a winner’s cheque for $300,000.
Ciganda had made up five strokes on overnight leader Lee, surging ahead with six birdies through her first 10 holes in wet conditions at the SKY 72 Golf Club in Incheon.
Despite being ranked 113th in putting average on the LPGA Tour, Ciganda was red-hot with the flatstick, sinking putts from near and far while her rivals failed to get to grips with hard-packed greens that refused to soak up Sunday’s incessant rain.
The first sign of trouble for the Spaniard came at the 14th when she made a mess of a bunker shot and took a double bogey. A careless tee shot at 16 saw her drop another shot and she looked to have blown her chances by bogeying the last.
The 21-year-old Lee, who is balancing the demands of being a student at UCLA with life on the women’s tour, lost four shots in five holes around the turn but took a one-stroke lead with birdies at the 15th and 17th.
Needing only to par the last to win, she somehow managed to leak her approach into water short of the green but got up and down for a bogey six to force the playoff.
Defending champion Lexi Thompson finished six shots off the pace, tied for 13th in a group that included Korean number one Park Sung-hyun, who delivered another erratic display with the putter to finish two over for the day.
The three Thai players in the field, Pornanong Phatlum and sisters Ariya and Moriya Jutanugarn, all wore black following King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s death on Thursday after seven decades on the throne.
They plan to wear black for the rest of the season.
Editing by Amlan Chakraborty